Friday, October 1, 2010

The Gauntlet

CAUTION: Some of the content of this tale may be disturbing for the squeamish.

The capture was easy and non eventful. Delta was not alone. Many of his fellow cohorts in crime were also with him. They didn’t consider themselves criminals, but they were finally captured after a long escape and evasion ordeal. Delta wasn’t his real name. It was simply the military phonetic alphabet designation for the initial of his first name. It was unknown what the future now held. No one had ever revealed any details about what was in store for those who were captured. The captors seemed pleasant enough though. Perhaps things would not be too bad.

The small caravan of military jeeps transporting the prisoners approached a fenced compound. The fence was every bit of eight feet tall topped with high security concertina wire. Big men in combat fatigues stood along the outside of the compound’s front fence watching the approach of the military jeeps. As the jeeps slowed the military men rapidly approached the jeeps without waiting for them to completely stop. Methodically they pulled prisoners from the back of the jeeps and threw them to the ground.

Delta attempted to stand after hitting the ground. One of the goons that had previously pulled him from the back of the jeep quickly shoved him back to the dirt. Delta attempted to look around to survey what was going on with everyone. The goon obviously in charge of Delta gave him a firm kick followed with a stern command, “Put your head down PIG. You don’t deserve to look around. Keep your head down and don’t look around!” Delta acquiesced. He didn’t know what else to do. His mental state was still intact even though nothing that had occurred had been expected. So far the treatment did not seem too extreme. The goons herded the men now crawling on their hands and knees toward the front gate of the compound. Repeated commands to get your head down PIG! Stay down PIG! You don’t deserve to walk or look around. You are the scum of the earth! Continued to ring out.

As the men got close to the front gate they were herded close up against each other uncomfortably invading each others personal space. Near the gate there was a wall of empty and dirty sandbags hanging on hooks. The prisoners were ordered to disrobe down to their briefs and place all of their possessions including their clothes into a dirty sandbag. After disrobing the men were forced up tight against each other still on their hands and knees in the line to enter the front gate. Delta could feel himself enter a condition of slight mental shock as he was forced to uncomfortably violate the personal space of the man in front of him and likewise had his personal space violated from behind. He had thought they would have been treated more humanly. After all his captors were his fellow citizens. It wasn’t like he was in a foreign land. The shock from his mental distress caused by the abuse he and his compatriots experienced was real though. He couldn’t imagine how much worse it could get.

Once inside the compound with the front gate now securely closed the men were allowed to stand and increase their distance from one another. The night was cold though and all of them were uncomfortably clothed only in their briefs. They were now allowed to stand and be processed. One of the prisoners made a smart remark. Immediately all of them were ordered to drop and knock out a hundred pushups. Many in macho form knocked out the pushups effortlessly and quickly. Some struggled. The order for pushups continued with each infraction. Slowly men dropped the macho display and soon all struggled with apparent effort except for one man who continued his prideful macho display of strength longer than anyone. It was apparent he was not going to allow himself to be easily broken. Delta wasn’t that man. He was has healthy and stout as any of them, but he quickly realized early on that it was a fruitless gesture. So, he conserved his strength acting as if it took extreme effort to accomplish any pushups. These PIGS that called him a PIG did not deserve his best efforts.

Everyone was assigned various work details consisting of some kind of menial labor within the compound. These tasks too were met with apparent incompetent effort where the men performed only to the extent required to keep attention from being focused on them. Slowly individual men were separated out and directed to one of two different buildings.

In one building Delta was greeted by a kind man that offered him a cigarette. There was an assortment of magazines on a nearby table Delta recognized as totally opposed to his worldview. So, was this to be a reeducation camp? The man told Delta that if he agreed to cooperate and join their side things would go easier on him. Delta engaged the man in conversation slowing picking out different magazines and asking questions about what it meant to be on their side. Delta was given a form to sign. Slowing he read the form quietly enjoying his escape from the cold night air and menial labor duties inside the comfortable interior of the soft cell building. The form required a confession stating he was guilty of being an enemy of the state. Delta drug his feet as long as he could and finally coldly looked the man in the eyes when he knew he could stretch his brief reprieve from the chilly night air no longer stating, “This isn’t me! I’m not signing anything and I don’t have anything to tell you.”

The man simply smiled back at Delta saying, “have it your way”. There was something nefarious about the smirk the man then gave Delta as he waved his hand in a manner that was obviously a signal which was soon followed by two of the goons from the front gate appearing from the shadows to escort Delta to the other building.

The other building was stark, cold, and dark compared to the building with the apparent kind man and magazines. Once inside the new building one of the goons opened the lid to a small wooden box barely large enough to contain a man all scrunched up on hands and knees. The goons then shoved Delta into the box and closed the lid. The bottom was sand and small gravel grit. A few unknown bugs could be felt crawling around. Delta made himself as comfortable as possible and attempted to take a nap. There was nothing he could do about the bugs or grit, so he decided to make the best of his current situation. Delta was grateful that neither bugs nor claustrophobia were things that disturbed him, otherwise the box could have been a small living hell.

Delta was only allowed to remain in the box for approximately twenty minutes before the lid opened and one of the goons interrupting his nap said, “Okay scum bag, time for more fun and games! Come on out of there.” Delta was then forced to sit in some type of chair that could recline back and had security straps on the arms. The goons strapped him in place and then wrapped his head in a large towel. Then the goons lit some type of pipe and began blowing smoke all up into the towel. If it was pot Delta could have easily gotten high, but it was only some nasty brand of tobacco fortunately not near as bad as Picayune Cigarettes native to his south Louisiana home. Delta easily handled the barrage of smoke.

Next two large goons took up positions on either side of Delta with one standing behind him at his head. A couple of others formed a line to a set of five gallon buckets lined up along one of the walls of the shack. The goons adjusted the chair back so that Delta was now in a reclined position. Then one of the goons took the towel and placed it into one of the nearby buckets full of water fully saturating the towel. The towel was then stretched taunt over Delta’s face as one of the five gallon buckets full of water was handed to the man behind Delta. A slow steady stream of water was then poured onto the towel covering Delta’s mouth and nose.

Once long ago when Delta was young he had been forcefully held underwater while swimming with an older man. Delta soon began to kick and struggle as he thought the older man would not bring him to the surface for air. The man held him down longer causing Delta to experience the very real panic that comes from the fear of drowning. Eventually the man did allow Delta to come up grasping for the precious air that allows all of us to experience the gift of life.

He was not held underwater now, but it felt exactly the same as a steady stream of water was kept pouring over the towel stretched taunt against his face. Delta held his breath unable to breath and trying not to inhale any water, but the goons had more than enough buckets full of water replacing an empty one with a full one when necessary to easily outlast him. Would he panic or simply pass out from the lack of oxygen? Not very many can simply pass out. The fear of drowning is too great of a threat to take calmly. As Delta’s oxygen levels depleted and his carbon dioxide levels stimulating his desire to breath built up, Delta could feel the urge to panic rise uncontrollably. He fought it hopelessly and soon gave in to full fledged panic kicking, fighting, and struggling against the restraints and the goons holding him in place. They continued the steady stream over the taunt towel heightening Delta’s panic. They wanted him fully ready to cooperate with them when they finally would decide to turn off the water. Death actually comes easy when one drowns. It is the ungodly panic that precedes it that is so awful. The men were quite experienced and knew just how far they could push it getting maximum results. Delta didn’t know what this technique was called other than drowning someone out of the water, but the perpetrators were complete experts at what was known as water boarding someone to extract information. It was debatable as to whether or not it was really torture. If it was torture, it was very humane in that the subject suffered no real physical harm other than the mental anguish of panic that involves the sensation of being drowned. Once the water flow stopped and the towel was removed whether the victim was passed out or still struggling, life giving oxygen would quickly return and all would be well in the world except for the mental anguish of having been nearly drowned. There would be no lasting physical harm and the mental anguish would soon vanish also leaving no lasting effects. If the person didn’t talk, the process would be repeated. Most would say anything to keep that from happening again. Delta was no exception.

“Wha, what do you want to know? What do you want to know?” Delta shouted as he grasped for air. The goons laughed.

“It is not what we want to know, but what we want you to know.” one of the meanest looking goons whispered to Delta.

“What’s that?” Delta asked with eyes wide in fright.

“Everyone breaks. It is just a matter of how long before it happens and how.” The man smiled. “You’re free to go and join your buddies now”.

The reality of what was going on and where Delta really was soon returned. It wasn’t a bad dream or a real drowning situation. The night was one of the longest he could remember ever enduring, but the sun eventually rose ushering in a new day. When the sun did rise, so was the American flag raised over the compound followed with the star spangled banner playing over the compound’s loudspeakers.

The mock POW camp was the final phase of Army Flight School just prior to the award of Army Aviator Wings followed by the commissioning of the Warrant Officer Candidates into full fledged Warrant Officers fully ready for duty as combat helicopter pilots who could be shot down, easily captured if they survived and become real prisoners held captive by a truly hostile force. Every one of them would now have some idea of what they might face should that dreaded event ever become a reality. One thing was known for sure though, any future captivity was unlikely to be near as humane as what they had all just experienced. Regardless the future looked bright. Not just anyone could experience the sheer freedom and thrill of helicopter flight not just as a passenger, but as the one who commanded the controls invoking the aircraft to carry out their every desire.

Gauntlet Survivors ~ Brand new Army Aviators!
Army Flight School Grads


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